Eversource proposing fee to raise customers' bills by about $6

New London — State regulators are accepting comments from Eversource Energy customers on a proposed distribution fee hike that could see average residents' monthly bills rise by about $6 beginning in May.

In late November, Eversource asked the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to approve a distribution fee increase that would have added $13.69 to average customers' bills. But the proposed bump has been cut almost in half, with Eversource recently reaching a settlement with the Office of Consumer Counsel, an independent state agency that advocates for utility consumers.

Customers can offer comments on the proposal at a PURA-hosted hearing at New London City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m.

Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said the proposed increase would help the company reduce the frequency and duration of outages, covering investments in stronger utility poles and overhead lines, upgraded system and substation equipment, continued tree trimming and technology protecting the grid from cybersecurity threats.

"It's all of the things that give us the ability to continue to make these strategic investments in the system," Gross said.

Norman Stitham, a retired South Lyme resident, said he recently received a flyer in his bill notifying him of the previously proposed $13-plus increase. He was not appeased by news that he now faced a smaller increase.

"They've got more charges and doohickeys that you wouldn't believe," Stitham said, running down the list of charges in the delivery category. "Nobody ever reads their bill. They just pay it."

The proposal to bump distribution rates follows a general rate increase earlier this month of about 1 cent per kilowatt hour. That general rate adjustment, which happens twice annually, on Jan. 1 and July 1, doesn't result in profits; Gross noted it represents the supply side of customers' bills, enabling Eversource to pay generators for the electricity it distributes.

"The delivery side is what enables us to carry on our business and do the upgrades and investments we need in technology, equipment and manpower," Gross said. "We're talking about reliable power. It's important to the economy ... and in many communities we're the top taxpayer and that's vital revenue for towns. But we certainly understand our customers' concerns."

Gross noted Eversource made a host of concessions in the settlement, including reduced return for shareholders and reduced requests for reimbursements of employee benefits.

The settlement reduced the proposed fee increase from $336.9 million to $154.5 million over the next three years.

Part of PURA's review includes an Eversource proposal to reduce a separate distribution "customer service charge" that currently stands at $19.25 monthly, to $11.88.

Lauren Bidra and Richard Sobolewski of the OCC said with the customer service charge reduction and the settlement, the total bill for an average Eversource customer using 700 kilowatts per hour would be about $169 monthly, compared to the current average of $163.

If approved, the fee increase will go into effect May 1.

Customers can also submit comments to PURA in writing at 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, Conn., 06051, or pura.executivesecretary@ct.gov. Any written comments should refer to Docket 17-10-46.

b.kail@theday.com

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